The origin of the three-judge panel

The first three-judge panel in Minnesota
The formation of this three-judge panel, Judges Sidney E. Kaner, J.H. Sylvester and Leonard Keyes, proved to be the prime factor in bringing about an orderly and just decision on the recount of the gubernatorial race between Karl Rolvaag and Elmer L. Anderson in 1962.
Photo from the book 'Recount'

The law calling for an appointed three-judge panel to decide Minnesota election contests became law in 1986, but its roots date back to the 1960s.

Both parties take credit for it, but one attorney says it goes back to a train ride during the tight gubernatorial race in 1962 between Elmer Andersen and Karl Rolvaag, which took months to resolve.

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Michael Galvin was a young associate at the law firm that represented Andersen. As Galvin remembers it, one of Andersen's recount attorneys, Richard Kyle Sr., had argued a case in Duluth and was doing some light reading on the way back to the Twin Cities.

"He was reading the election laws as he came back on the train, and came across the reference to the three-judge panel," Galvin recalled. "When he got back to St. Paul, he came up to the office, and of course there was a daily briefing of the activities that were going on with the recount. And it had become very clear to the Andersen team that this was becoming an increasingly political issue."

Galvin says both parties had tossed around the idea of the panel, but Kyle was the one who suggested it outright.

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A national columnist had criticized the Minnesota Supreme Court for a series of decisions related to the election that appeared to favor the Republicans.

Michael Galvin
Attorney Michael Galvin points to a photo of Richard Kyle, Sr., the attorney who first suggested the idea of a three-judge panel to determine the outcome of close elections.
MPR Photo/Elizabeth Stawicki

Chief Justice Oscar Knutson was so incensed that he took the idea of a three-judge panel, and gave the campaigns a list of all the district judges in the state, and told the campaigns to choose three.

They did, and the panel was an even political split, with one of its members appointed by a DFL governor and elevated to a higher post by a Republican.

In the current case, Justice Alan Page appointed a three-judge panel with judges appointed by Republican, Democrat and Independence Party governors.